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The Coen Brothers Man Up

The Coen Brothers Man Up (photo)

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“A Serious Man” marks Ethan and Joel Coen’s return not only to the Midwest for the first time since “Fargo,” but to an era they know well from growing up in Minnesota’s St. Louis Park during the 1960s. As a New Yorker profile of local son Senator Al Franken recently noted, the heavily Jewish suburb has given birth to a generation of such acute thinkers as the Coens and Thomas Friedman. Yet when we meet Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a harried physics professor at the local college, he is a man utterly bereft of answers.

As he faces a decision on his tenure at work, Gopnik is plagued by troubles on all fronts — his wife (Sari Lennick) wants a divorce, his children Danny and Sarah are selfish brats, and his brother’s (Richard Kind) prolonged stay on the family couch exacerbates matters. Even Gopnik’s rare escape from his problems in the form of gazing at a nude sunbathing neighbor (Amy Landecker) brings up moral dilemmas that he attempts to solve via the counsel of three rabbis, all of whom are more interested in digressive stories about Hebrew-inscribed teeth and parking lots than the problems of the downtrodden academic. But in his quest to talk to the revered Rabbi Marshak, the Coens’ bizarro “Wizard of Oz” becomes one of their most densely layered films to date, as well as one of the most bitingly funny, as Gopnik grapples with the pressures of his faith and his need for self-preservation. In Toronto, I had a lighthearted conversation with the Coens, who finish each other’s sentences, about how personal their latest film actually is and the weirdness of bar mitzvahs.

Between this film and your upcoming adaptation of Michael Chabon’s “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union,” you’ve been steeped in Judaica for the past couple years. What sparked the renewed interest?

Joel Coen: “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” was a bit of a coincidence, actually, coming on the heels of this.

Ethan Coen: It just fell into our laps. The producer Scott Rudin had bought the rights to the book and asked us to adapt it, write a screenplay. We just read the book and liked it. But we had already written this, it was before we shot this that we agreed to do the script for that.

As someone who spent some time at a Hebrew school, I know that can be an experience some would never want to revisit.

JC: We have a little perspective on it now because we’ve been away from it for so many years, so it seemed more interesting or funny or exotic or something to revisit now that…

EC: It must be one of those things there are seven stages of…

JC: Of denial…

EC: With flight…

JC: [laughs] Yes, denial, acceptance…

EC: And one of those later stages.

JC: Rage. [laughs]

EC: Nobody goes to Hebrew school and doesn’t feel rage at some point. [laughs]

09302009_ASeriousMan2.jpgWas it the right time for this film because you have the perspective for it, or because as filmmakers you have the clout to tell this particular story the way you’d want to tell it?

JC: I think all of those things are part of it. We’re a little older. The clout to make it? That one maybe not, but maybe. We might not have considered it early on just because it would’ve seemed so iffy. On the other hand…

EC: Yeah, you’ve got to be kind of established to have done this movie. It’s really true.

JC: Although “Barton Fink” was pretty weird at the time. But we had already done a number of movies at that point, too. [“A Serious Man”] would’ve been hard to do as a first or second movie, unless you were willing to go much lower budget than we were.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.